Indians’ start gives city much-needed sports lift

It’s very early, not even May. So why are Indians fans acting like every pitch is for the playoffs?

The answer is, because they can.

Because Cleveland sports fans are tired of hearing their teams aren’t good enough, that they never have a chance to do something special.

And because the Indians are in first place in the American League Central after their 7-5 victory in Kansas City on Wednesday — and, at 13-5, are tied with Colorado for the best record in baseball.

Mostly, Indians fans are excited because this is just flat-out fun.

Yes, in Cleveland, we are always just waiting for the wheels to come off. And let me assure you, things won’t always be this good. Even if this magical start continues, there will certainly be some tough spots. That’s just the way things work in a 162-game season.

But forget about all that. Right now, just focus on the moment.

Just focus on Justin Masterson, the Indians starter who is now 4-0 just one season after struggling to a 6-13 record.

It looked like reality was about to set in for Masterson on Wednesday, when the Royals scored two runs in the first. But he settled down, struck out three and did not give up another run the rest of the way while pitching a total of six innings.

Of course, there is so much more to like about this team.

Travis Hafner (two hits, a double and an RBI on Wednesday) seems to have been reborn. He is acting as the classy veteran and rock of stability who leads by example.

Grady Sizemore (diving catch in the outfield) has returned from injury and been as good as ever, displaying the guts and scrappiness that is beginning to define these Indians.

Asdrubal Cabrera (2 for 4, two runs) has simply been awesome, and can someone please explain from where Jack Hannahan has come? Hannahan (2 for 4, double, two RBI) is suddenly the Indians’ gem of a third baseman, a pleasant surprise with both his bat and his glove.

Nobody expected any of this, and most people outside of Cleveland still don’t believe.

But true Indians fans know the team hasn’t just been winning but playing like a winning team even in defeat.

After all, each of the Indians’ three most recent losses came down to the final at-bat. That includes a 5-4 setback Tuesday in Kansas City, a game in which the Royals once held a 5-zip lead. Yet the Indians battled back to keep everyone’s attention until the very last pitch.

They are the underdogs this city has been longing for, the team that has come together and rallied around a common belief — that being you don’t need to have the biggest names, the beefiest bats or the best arms to win consistently.

All you really need to do is always play hard: every pitch, every pop-up, every time it seems as if all has been lost.

That was especially evident Wednesday, as Royals starter Luke Hochevar was perfect through five innings. Then came the sixth, when the Indians sent nine batters to the plate and scored four runs.

In the process, they shook Hochevar’s confidence — he committed two balks, including one that scored a run — and caused him to go from flawless to broken in the swing of a bat.

This time, it was the other guys who came unglued.

“A game like today,” Masterson said, “kind of shows you when things are going right — the hitters sticking in with a guy who’s throwing no-hit stuff, a pitcher struggling a little bit but really fighting and keeping us in the game. When you can win games like that, that’s what good teams do.”

Right now, the Indians are a good team.

So just enjoy it, fans. It might not last forever, but, today, it is good enough.

Actually, today, it is great. And, hey, who’s to say it can’t last?

“We’re going to keep fighting,” Masterson promised. “It’s a long season, but I think we’ve got a lot going for us.”

That much is obvious, and Cleveland fans couldn’t be more thankful.